Are We Finally Ready to Admit UFOs Are Alien Visitors?

Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast
Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Each year, thousands of people throughout the U.S. report witnessing UFOs—and that number has only grown in recent years. And it’s not just everyday civilians either. The Pentagon fielded hundreds of reports of UFOs in 2022. These sightings have become so prevalent that the U.S. government even created a new term for them: unidentified aerial phenomenon (UAP). Congressional leaders have begun receiving briefings on UFOs. The Department of Defense has even created a UAP task force. Even NASA, an agency that has avoided anything related to flying saucers and little green men like a plague, has created its own group to investigate these phenomena.

That project culminated in a hearing in front of Congress last week—an event which inadvertently acted as a prelude to a whistleblower who worked as an intelligence official with the Pentagon’s Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force from 2019 to 2021 by the name of David Grusch who claimed that the U.S. government has a “craft of non-human origin” in its possession.

The U.S. seems to be going through a veritable UFO craze in recent years. Not only is the public at large and government taking these issues more seriously, but even academics are beginning to admit that they too want to know if the truth is out there. It all begs the question: Is all of this just more conspiracy theory nonsense—or are we starting to really see proof that we’re not alone in the universe?

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“We’ve gone on a straight line back to the beginning,” Greg Eghigian, professor of history at Penn State University, told The Daily Beast. Eghigian is currently writing a book on the history of UFO sightings, and he believes that much of the recent discussions and discourse surrounding aliens recently echoes much of what we’ve seen from the past.

“This is all very reminiscent of the earliest years of what was called the ‘Flying Saucer phenomenon’ of the late 1940s and early 1950s,” he explained. “It’s the same basic gist: weird sightings, military was very interested for reasons of national security… It also sparked people coming forward and whistleblowers saying that the government is not playing straight with us.”

In the wake of World War II the U.S. found itself with a new foe: the Russian-dominated Soviet Union. This resulted in a period of geopolitical strife in which the two nations waged a conflict of arms in the way of the Cold War and also scientific advancement in the way of the Space Race. This captured the public’s collective interest and imagination—resulting in some early reported instances of UFO sightings and legends, including the apocryphal Roswell Incident.

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Cut to the present day. The U.S. is once again actively in conflict with the Russians, embroiled in both a political as well as a technological conflict. The public is also, once again, enamored with a newly renewed Space Race—albeit, with billionaires instead of conflicting nation states—as entities like NASA and SpaceX proclaim their bold visions of returning to the moon and colonizing the cosmos.

We’re seeing history—primarily that of the Cold War—begin to repeat itself. It’s no real surprise then that we’re also seeing aspects such as the UFO craze also return.

“[That era] became really a sort of anchor for so many narratives and stories that are going to come out in subsequent generations,” Eghigian said. “So in many ways, this all sounds very familiar.”

We can trace this most recent fascination with aliens back to 2017 when The New York Times reported that the Pentagon spearheaded a project known as the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program that ran from 2007 to 2012. With a hefty dose of funding from then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the program was tasked with recovering and researching materials from UAPs, collecting videos of sightings, and interviewing military service members who reported sightings.

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Though the program came and went quietly until the NYT investigation, the news that the government was actually looking into matters of UFOs dropped like a bombshell. After the reports, the Pentagon slowly began trickling out information regarding alleged UFO sightings by military personnel over the years. One of the most notable releases was a nine-page 2021 report that highlighted 144 incidents of UAP seen by U.S. government officials from November 2004 to March 2021.

Meanwhile, UFO reports amongst the public spiked during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic with nationwide sightings rising 16 percent. Now, more than ever, it seems as though the public is primed for stories of flying saucers and beings from another planet. In the wake of seemingly unending existential threats such as the pandemic, the Russian-Ukraine war, and climate disasters, things like aliens all of a sudden don’t seem that crazy.

Ironically, though, Eghigian said that he and the UFO researchers that he has spoken to are approaching all of this news with a healthy dose of skepticism—even as the government becomes less skittish with telling the public that they’re looking for aliens.

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“This all strikes them as echoing the same old narrative,” Eghigian said. “In the past, those things have never really panned out. For a lot of them, I think they still find themselves to be pretty dubious about all this.”

For example, the U.S. Air Force established Project Sign—also known as Project Saucer—in 1948 in order to collect information regarding UFO sightings in the country and see what threats to national security they might pose. Later the government also created Project GRUDGE in order to alleviate the public’s concerns about flying saucers potentially invading the country, explaining them as weather balloons and weather anomalies. For Eghigian and other UFO researchers, it’s the same old story.

That isn’t to say that what is happening now isn’t novel or compelling in its own way. Eghigian acknowledges that the likes of the Pentagon and especially NASA involving themselves in UFO research publicly is a clear sign of the times. No longer are we afraid to talk openly about the potential for visitors in other countries. The government is now telling us that they even want to find out what the deal is with these flying saucers.

“The idea that NASA is involved in this is very, very new,” he explained. “NASA always wanted to keep this stuff at arm’s length. So there’s something bigger going on. This stuff seems far more legitimate than it had been in quite a long time. Because of that, it’s having all sorts of ripple effects.”

It’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy in a way. The more people see UFOs, the more they talk about it. That only results in more people seeing and talking about UFOs . Part of it can be associated with a psychological phenomenon known as “frequency illusion.” This occurs when you begin to notice things more after learning about them. We saw a good example of this in early 2022 when the U.S. began shooting down a shocking amount of UFOs out of the sky after a Chinese spy balloon drifted initially into its air space.

Today, we have the case of Grusch who—for all intents and purposes—seems to be a completely upright citizen and respected intelligence worker who happened to make bold claims about UFOs and our government. While his claims are no doubt intriguing, Eghigian said that they should be taken with a big grain of salt.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. As sensational as the claims are, they’re still just claims so far.

“It’s very, very hard to put much credibility in these claims given how extravagant they are, and how there’s just really nothing to indicate any of these things. We just never had anybody who’s been able to present any compelling evidence for this kind of stuff.”

It’s all a kind of an extraterrestrial mixed bag. While the fact that the government is being much more upfront with their UFO curiosity is intriguing and sightings are on the rise, we still can’t say for certain that these are visitors from other planets. Unless definitive proof comes out—perhaps with actual materials gathered from alien spaceships by the U.S. government—then we’ll still be asking whether or not the truth is out there.

But that won’t stop us from looking at the skies as we continue to search for meaning and answers. As we’ve seen from the past few years, the more we do it, the more we’ll see. Sure, it might not all be definitive proof of aliens—but at least, as we continue to search together, we might feel a little less alone in the universe.

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